Counter terrorism measures – balancing freedom with security

Britain has a long history of liberty that we should all be proud of.  Liberty is ingrained into Britain’s fabric and is a hallmark of a civilised society. There is no doubt that New Labour got the balance between security and liberty wrong.  Policies introduced under their watch systematically eroded liberty, all in the name of our collective “security”.  Ed Miliband has admitted that, when it comes to civil liberties, Labour got it wrong. He has conceded that his Government seemed too “casual” about people’s freedom. This is something the coalition promised to rectify. Well today, the home secretary made an announcement on a series of counter terrorism measures that act, to some extent, as a point in which we can judge this government on these issues.

The announcements has been met with some positive reaction. Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation has welcomed these measures saying “Today’s review of the government’s counter-terrorism powers is a welcome and positive development. The system of control orders established by the previous government was seen to be an imperfect but necessary evil and it is therefore right that it has been reviewed. It is good news that the Coalition has recognised the problems of the old control orders system while also recognising that, in the absence of any alternatives, scrapping the system altogether is not feasible and may increase the risk of terrorist attacks.

‘At the same, we should remember that there is no substitute for giving people a fair and open trial. The government, the police and the security services need to make sure that wherever possible suspected terrorists receive fair trials in which they and their lawyers are able to view and challenge all the evidence against them before a jury. British traditions of justice should be upheld and defended wherever possible. Control orders – or whatever system replaces them – should remain only a last resort.’

He seems to suggest, that in some cases a de facto control order is useful and indeed necessary to protect the country from potential terrorist attacks.

 This is all fine and good, and indeed I agree that today’s announcements are “welcome”, but they have not got to the heart of the problem.  Crucially, the “new control orders” (electronic tagging, overnight residence requirements, restrictions on communication and movement will all remain possible) will remain a matter for the Home Secretary rather than police or prosecutors and the scheme will continue to run outside the criminal justice system of investigation, arrest, charge and conviction.  It is this that is at the heart of what is wrong with counter terror legislation, the belief that somehow suspected terrorists cannot, and should not be incorporated into our criminal justice system.

Equally, on a pragmatic note, keeping these measures in politician’s hands (opposed to the criminal justice systems) does not make sense because, as the review points out, it is ineffective. Firstly, no “controlee” has ever been prosecuted for a terrorist offence.  Secondly, 15% of all “controlees” have gone missing, highlighting how ineffective community based punishment is. Therefore, I would argue that the administrative task facing the de facto control orders puts our safety at risk as much as it does our liberty. 

We do however; need to also congratulate the coalition. Due to action they have chosen to take (as a relative priority) we have lost 28 day detention without trial, we have lost arbitrary stop and search, we have restricted councils use of counter terrorism measures and we have got rid of some of the most draconian aspects of the control orders that New Labour rushed in. 

It appears however, that they are hesitant to and not appearing to tip the balance too far towards liberty and risk our security. My message then can be simplified down to this, the de facto control orders we are left with are not good for either our liberty or our security.  Scrap them once and for all!

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